Sunday, April 04, 2021

A quick and dirty argument for the resurrection of Jesus

I think just the survival of Christianity after Jesus' death, combined with the claim Peter, James, and the other apostles made to having seen Jesus alive after his death is pretty good evidence of the resurrection. The reason is because the whole movement centered around the notion that Jesus was the messiah. If you look at all the unambiguous messianic prophecies about the messiah, you see that his coming is always associated with the reunion of Judah and Israel, a full return from exile, the defeat and overthrow of all of Israel's enemies and occupiers (which would include the Romans), national sovereignty, the restoration of the Davidic dynasty, and the beginning of an permanent era of peace and prosperity that eventually extends to all of the nations.

So it was built in to the whole concept of the messiah that his coming would be a big triumph for the Jewish people, and there'd be no more occupation. For Jews living in the first century, that would mean no more Romans. They would live in peace and enjoy national sovereignty. These expectations are even reflected in the gospels. At one point the apostles ask Jesus, "Are you going to redeem Israel now?" At another point, a crowd tried to make Jesus king by force.

With all of these expectations in mind, the last thing you'd expect if you thought Jesus was the messiah was for him to be defeated and put to death by the very people he was supposed to have prevailed against. His death should have proved to any Jew in the first century that he was not the messiah after all.

And that seems to be the case. In Luke, there's a story about a couple of disciples of Jesus walking to Emmaus after Jesus' death, and one of them said, "We thought he was going to redeem Israel." They were disillusioned initially.

Paul said that "Christ crucified" was a stumbling block to Jews, and for good reason. There were several people in the first century who claimed to be the messiah. In each case, they'd gather followers and eventually be killed. Once they were killed, their movement ended. The followers would either find another messiah to follow or else do something else with their lives. During the first Jewish war with Rome, there were three people all claiming to be the messiah who were holed up in Jerusalem during the siege, fighting each other at the same time they were fighting the Romans. But nobody continued to believe in them once they were killed.

In the second century (around 135, I think), the Jews fought a second war against Rome, and practically the whole nation rallied around Simon bar Kosiba who they thought was the messiah. But once he was killed, not a single person continued to believe he was the messiah. His death proved he wasn't.

So there has to be some explanation for why Jesus' movement survived his death, especially since it survived his death as a messianic movement. Why did anybody continue to believe he was the messiah after he had been utterly defeated without having fulfilled all the major messianic prophecies? Keep in mind all of his earliest followers were throughly Jewish.

Well, the explanation they gave themselves was that they saw him alive after his death. There are a lot of scholars (probably a significant majority) who think they saw something they took to be the risen Jesus. There are some, like Gerd Ludemann, who think they had grief hallucinations. There are others, like E.P. Sanders, who just throw up their hands and say they don't know what they saw, only that it was what gave them confidence in Jesus.

I don't think a hallucination is an adequate explanation, though. Grief hallucinations are fairly common after a loved one dies. I had a really lucid dream about my dad after he died. My grandmother said she had an experience of my grandfather after he died. But these experiences never lead people to believe their loved one is raised from the dead.

Try to imagine what you would do if somebody you knew to be dead was standing in front of you right now. Imagine it's some close relative of yours who died. What do you think you would make of that? Well, you'd have multiple options. You might think you were dreaming, hallucinating, seeing a ghost, or that the person hadn't died after all. But probably the very last thing you'd think was that they had risen from the dead.

In one of the gospels, the initial reaction upon seeing Jesus was that they thought they were seeing a ghost. It wasn't until Jesus ate in front of them, and they could touch him, that they believed he was a flesh and blood human being. And there's lots of stuff in the New Testament about them actually touching the risen Jesus.

That makes a lot of sense if you think about it because probably nobody would've thought Jesus had risen from the dead just because they hallucinated him. It would've taken much more than that. So these reports about Jesus eating and them touching Jesus are probably true because nothing short of that really explains why they believed he had risen from the dead.

So, if Jesus really did die on the cross, and the disciples later were able to eat with and touch a living Jesus, then that's pretty good reason to think Jesus had risen from the dead.

That's the skinny of the argument, though. A whole book could be written on this subject.

Friday, April 02, 2021

The god of the philosophers vs. the Abrahamic God

Let's suppose the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA), the argument from contingency, the fine-tuning argument, and the moral argument are all sound.

The KCA tells us why the universe exists. It's because a spaceless, timeless, immaterial being brought it into existence. But the KCA doesn't tell us why anything at all exists. Why does the being that brought the universe into existence exist? Well, that is answered by the argument from contingency. It's because it's impossible for nothing to exist. Everything owes its existence to a necessary being, and it's impossible for that being not to exist.

The argument from fine-tuning tells us that there was an engineer who fixed the constants of nature in such a way as to make life possible. But why? What movtive might the engineer have had? Well, we get an inkling of an answer from the moral argument. The moral argument gives us a morally perfect being. It stands to reason that a morally perfect being would want to actualize certain moral goods, like courage, humility, and self-sacrifice, by creating other sentient beings. In the Christian story, God himself was able to have these moral qualities through the incarnation of Jesus. It also stands to reason that the being would want to create sentient beings capable of appreciating beauty and virtue. In fact, as Jonathan Edwards argued in The End For Which God Created the World, it would make sense that the being would want to create other beings capable of appreciating the morally perfect being himself since the adoration of that which is most worthy of adoration is, itself, a good we should expect a perfectly good being to want to actualize. And that explains why God wants us to worship him.

The fine-tuning argument also tells us that there was an engineer, but it doesn't tell us how that engineer got its design into the universe. That is answered by the KCA. The design got its way into the universe through the creation of the universe. If the universe hadn't been created, it's hard to see how it could've been designed.

The moral argument tells us there is an absolute moral authority. But what kind of being could possibly have that kind of authority? Well, that is answered by the KCA and the argument from contingency. According to these arguments, there is a being that is the ultimate source of everything else that exists. Everything else owes its existence to a necessary being. Reality revolves around that being. It's hard to think of anything else that would suffice as a ground for objective moral truths that apply to all humans across all cultures, no matter where they travel.

Given how these various arguments compliment each other, it's probable that they each refer to the same being. The creator of the universe is the same person as the moral authority, and that's the same person who designed the universe. If these arguments are sound, then there is a necessary personal being who is the absolute foundational ground of all reality, who is spaceless, timeless, immaterial, sentient, intelligent, and morally perfect with absolute sovereignty, autonomy, and moral authority who designed the universe so that it would be habitible by living creatures capable of moral awareness and agency, and brought that universe into being out of nothing, and who rules and governs the universe by imposing moral obligations on its creation, and by investing creatures with moral knowledge so that they can know what is required of them.

That still doesn't prove it's the Abrahamic God, but considering how well it coheres with the Abrahamic God, it ought to make us suspicious. This suspicion should be heightened when we consider the fact that it was not because of these arguments that the Jewish people came up with YHWH. There are many gods in many religions, and there are many origin stories, but hardly any of them have an ultimate, necessary, absolutely sovereign, and morally perfect being who brought the universe into existence out of absolutely nothing. Most creation accounts involve a god who is not without peers who built the cosmos, or some part of it, out of pre-existing material, and they are almost never morally perfect beings. If the Jewish people came up with a God that resembles the God of the philosophers in so many ways, then it's either a huge coincidence, and they made a lucky guess, or else this God revealed himself to them during their history. So although this may not prove with any certainty that the God of the philosophers is the Abrahamic God, it seems likely that that would be the case. At the very least, it should give us reason to look into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, or any other religion that has a god who coheres as nicely with the conclusion of these arguments.

Here's a couple of other posts I made on this same subject:

"Deism and philosophical arguments for God"

"Natural theology, deism, and theism again"

Tuesday, March 30, 2021


I used to read the Proverbs a lot when I was a kid and into my 20's. It was one of my favourite books in the Bible. I thiink everybody should read it whether they are a Christian or not, because it can inspire you to be a more virtuous person. You may not even agree with all of them, but you can still get something out of it.

The Proverbs have something for everybody. I think almost anybody who reads the Proverbs will find some that address their own vices. So if you're lazy, dishonest, prideful, stubborn, unreasonable, prone to anger, or you talk too much, there's a Proverb for you.

The other day, I was feeling angry about something. I don't remember what it was. But I was so rattled, I read Proverbs 10 through 30 in one sitting. There were lots of Proverbs about anger. For example, "A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult." Reading things like that make me want to be the wise man. I find it calming. It gives me that extra incentive I need to strive to be patient, slow to anger, etc.

So I highly recommend reading the Proverbs. You are bound to find yourself in there somewhere. When I was younger, I would put a mark besides some of the Proverbs that jumped out at me, and I'd go back and read them later. Sometimes I'd quote them in discussions with other people, and eventually I'd have them memorized without even trying. Memorizing them brings them to mind whenever there's a situation in the real world where they apply.

The only liability with reading the Proverbs is that sometimes you recognize not only yourself, but also some of your family and friends. That can lead you to be judgmental. So you have to be careful with that. Otherwise, it's a great collection of Proverbs, and I highly recommend it.

The first time I read the Proverbs, it was in the NIV. I memorized a lot of them in the NIV, but then I read them in the NKJV. I had one of those little New Testaments they pass out on college campuses that include the Psalms and Proverbs. I used to sneak it to work with me and read the Proverbs when I could. I ended up memorizing a lot of them in the NKJV, too. Now-a-days, I read the NASB. Some of them aren't quite as pithy or memorable in the NASB. That may just be because they're not what I'm used to. I don't know. But it seems easier to read them in the NASB and not be sure what you just read. But give it a go, whether you have the NASB, ESV, NIV, RSV, NRSV, or NKJV, you'll probably get something valuable out of it.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Catholic Tradition

Whereas Protestants think the Bible is the only source of God-breathed information available to the whole church, Catholics think both the Bible and Tradition are God-breathed sources of information available to the whole church. Tradition is supposed to exist alongside the Bible and be equally authoritative.

Let's grant for the sake of argument that there was an oral Tradition in the early Church that was every bit as authoritative as the written scriptures. It's not an unreasonable thing to believe because (1) we know there were oral Traditions because some of them are quoted in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 & 15:3-5), and (2) Paul tells the Thessalonians to hold firm to the Traditions they were taught whether by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15). I get the impression from passages like 1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6 that oral tradition was the primary way Paul conveyed essential Christian doctrines to the churches he established. The letters always came after the new Christians had already been taught what Christianity was all about. Paul sometimes quotes oral traditions to remind people of what they had already recieved. There were probably a lot more oral traditions than what got quoted in Paul's letters. So I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that besides the written words of the Bible, there is also an oral Tradition that's just as authoritative.

But that isn't any reason to think Catholic Tradition carries the same authority as the Bible. In the case of the Bible, if we want to know what was originally written, we have to use the tools of textual criticism. Thankfully, we've got lots of copies we can compare, and that allows us to reconstruct with a good degree of confidence what was in the originals. But whatever oral Traditions there were in the first century obviously weren't preserved in the same way or even in an analogous way. If they were, we should expect the Catholic Church to be able to give us a written collection of these oral traditions. Or, if we accept the Catholic idea of apostolic succession, we could ask all the Bishops of the Catholic church to write down the oral traditions they received, then we can compare them to each other and reconstruct the original wording.

But it looks like none of the oral Traditions that supposedly existed were preserved in their original wording. The wording is completely lost. Now, what the Catholic Church appears to mean by "Tradition" is not a fixed memorized oral Tradition, but an interpretation of those original oral Traditions. The doctrines of the Catholic church, however they are explained and conveyed, are supposed to capture what the oral Traditions taught. How can we know that the interpretation is correct if we can't go back to the original wording? In the case of the Bible, we can at least go back to the original wording if we want to settle disputes about interpretation.

Well, it turns out that the Catholic Church claims to have interpretative authority that applies both to Tradition and to Scripture. I'll come back to this in a minute.

The idea that Tradition has been preserved in an oral form by passing it down from one Bishop to another or one Pope to another is a myth. There are no fixed oral traditions in the sense that Paul quoted them in the New Tesatment. They are all lost. All we have are the Scriptures. And besides that, if there were some fixed collection of oral Traditions that were accuratedly passed down from one Pope to the next Pope, we should expect more uniformity from Pope to Pope. The reality is that there have been Popes who were heretical. There's no point at which an out-going Pope sits down with an in-coming Pope and hands down oral Traditions they received from the previous Pope. That doesn't happen with Bishops either. Usually, a Pope dies, and the Cardinals vote a new Pope in, so the out-going Pope doesn't even know who the in-coming Pope is going to be. How can they pass down Tradition in the idealized way Catholics portray it happening?

It is hard to look at the history of the Church and believe there was this unbroken passing down of a fixed oral Tradition that's just as reliable as the written words of Scripture.

Nevermind for the moment whether Sola Scriptura is theologically correct. It strikes me as being necessary on a practical level. We know what the New Testament originally said because of how it was preserved. We have nothing comparable with oral Tradition. So even if there was oral Tradition that carried the same weight as Scripture in the earliest years of the Church, that oral Tradition is lost. It's possible that some of the teachings of the Catholic Church are reflections of an ancient Tradition that used to be passed on by word of mouth, but there's no way to confirm it with any degree of confidence. Without being able to confirm it with any degree of confidence, it can't carry the same authority as Scripture.

Catholics trust both oral Tradition and the written scriptures because of a third source of authority, namely the teaching magisterium of the Church itself. But why think the Catholic Church has this authority? Well, that's because of Scripture and Tradition. Yes, it is circular reasoning, as I explained in this post.

Catholics think Sola Scriptura is problematic because before you can know which writings are Scripture, you need an outside source of authority. They have the Church, but the protestants don't. This assumption is what leads Catholics to circular reasoning. If you need one source of divine authority in order to tell you about another source of divine authority, then you've either got to engage in circular reasoning or else an infinite regress of divine sources of authority. The only way to break out of that is to argue for a divine source of authority using premises that are not divinely inspired. That's essentially what protestants do. When the church tried to settle disputes about canonicity, they used arguments, not fiat. Protestants accept the canon because we believe the best arguments won out, not because the Church is infalliable. If Catholics try to establish the authority of one of their sources (the Bible, Tradition, or the teaching magiesterium), not by appeal to another source of divine authority, but by using reason, evidence, and argument, then they are basically arguing like protestants, and they have lost their basis for objecting to Sola Scriptura or for saying potestants can't know the canon.

James White accuses Catholics of subscribing, in practice, to Sola Ecclesia--the Church is the sole infalliable rule of faith. I think he's got a point. From a Catholic point of view, it all goes back to the teaching magisterium of the Church. That's what tells us what writings are Scripture, what they mean, and what is contained in Tradition and what it means. If Scripture and Tradition are subordinate to the Church (since the Church determines what Scripture and Tradition are and what they mean), then for all practical purposes, Catholics subscribe to Sola Ecclesia. But, as soon as they try to establish the authority of the Church by appealing to Scripture and Tradition, they are engaging in circular reasoning, and I'm not sure you can accuse them of Sola Ecclesia anymore.

If we accept the divine authority of the teaching magisterium of the Church, then the accurate preservation of Scripture and Tradition shouldn't matter that much. The Church knows correct doctrine even if it has forgotten the original wording. As far as I know, the Church doesn't claim to have an infallible critical text of the New Testament. They still rely on secular fallible means of preservation. We can know the original wording only insofar as we can use textual criticism to reconstruct it, and the Church doesn't claim this process is infallible. All they claim that's infallible is what the Church claims the Scriptures teach. But just as they lack the original wording of the oral Traditions and have preserved only the teachings supposedly contained in those Traditions, so also could they preserve the teachings of the New Testament without having the actual New Testament. The wording of the New Tesatment is really secondary when it comes to sound doctrine. It all basically comes down to what the Catholic Church teaches, and not to the original wording of the Bible or the oral Traditions. That's Sola Eccelsia.

I had more to say, but after taking a break, I've forgotten what it was. Maybe I'll edit this post later if it comes back to me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Knowingly doing something wrong

There have been a handful of times when I've run into somebody who could not wrap their head around the idea that somebody would do something wrong if they knew it was wrong. Two of them thought it was impossible. Just as they could not wrap their heads around such a thing, I could not wrap my head around how they could think such a thing. It seemed obvious to me that people can knowingly do what is wrong. I've done things I knew were wrong. Who hasn't? I remember talking to somebody about this a couple of years ago, and both of us were dumbfounded at each other. It made me wonder if there was some big misundertsanding going on. How could he be unaware of something that was so obvious to me? Or how could I be unaware of something that was so obvious to him?

Anywho, I was just watching This Crime Watch Daily video on YouTube about a murder for hire plot. There was one part of it that caught my attention. The woman who was hiring an undercover cop to kill her husband said, "This is such a horrible thing to do," and yet there she was doing it. Clearly, she was doing something wrong, and she knew it was wrong.

If you are reasding this, and you are one of those people who doesn't think a person can knowingly do something they think is wrong, can you explain this to me? I feel like there's something I'm missing. Nevermind the fact that I disagree with it. I wonder if I've just got some kind of misunderstanding about what people mean when they say they hold this position because it seems so obviously and demonstrably false to me.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Thomas Crisp's evolutionary argument against naturalism

There's this new YouTube channel called Parker's Pensées, and he has some excellent content. Earlier today, I watched this video where he interviewed Thomas Crisp and Tyler McNabb. They talked about an article Thomas wrote for The Blackwell Companion to Naturalism. I googled Thomas Crisp and found the article: "On Naturalistic Metaphysics" I just finished reading it and thought I'd share my initial thoughts.

I only read it one time, so this is an off-the-cuff response. I may feel differently about it if I read it some more and think about it, but here's my thoughts for now.

Whereas Plantinga said that given naturalism and evolution, the probability that our belief-producing cognitive faculties would be reliable is low or incrutible, Crisp made a more modest claim. He didn't claim that all our beliefs would be unreliable, but that certain kinds of beliefs would be unreliable. He said the probability that our belief-producing cognitive faculties would give us reliable abstract metaphysical beliefs given naturalism and evolution is inscrutible. The reason is because we haven't evolved significantly from when we were cave men, and those kinds of beliefs would've been completely useless to our cave man ancestors. This avoids a certain criticism that Plantinga's argument has gotten--that surely we'd be better off with true beliefs than false beliefs. In the case of abstract metaphysical beliefs, that's not the case since they lack any practical application for cave men.

Well, naturalism is an abstract metaphysical belief, and it requires a high level of thinking to arrive at it. If our cognitive faculties are unreliable when it comes to these kinds of questions, then we can't rely on them to tell us that naturalism is true. So if naturalism is true, then we can't be rational in affirming it.

That's the arument in a nutshell. He did go into possible responses, but I'm not going to address those since I have my own responses.

My initial impression is that it's an interesting argument worth thinking about, but I'm not totally persuaded just yet. I have a few objections.

First of all, it seems to me that with just a little bit of imagination, we might be able to come up with an evolutionary advantage to having the capacity for abstract metaphysical reasoning. Maybe being able to do philosophy could help you reproduce since "smart" has always been sexy. Suppose we can't come up with a use for it, though. Wouldn't that have more to do with our lack of imagination than with there not being any use for it?

Second, I don't see that it requires a great deal of abstract thinking to arrive at naturalism. All naturalism requires is that you believe what you see and don't believe what you don't see. All we see is physical stuff, and it's easy to see why, on naturalism, we'd believe in it. But the belief that that's all there is doesn't require much abstract thinking it seems to me. It would seem to me that supernaturalism would be less likely than naturalism since supernaturalism requires belief in things we don't usually experience.

Third, abstract metaphysical thinking and reasoning is actually hard, which is what we would expect if evolution is more concerned with practical beliefs that affect our every day lives. The fact that it's hard is evident in the diversity of opinion among brilliant people on metaphysical questions. So maybe our metaphysical beliefs aren't that reliable. Or maybe it just takes a lot more effort to arrive at true conclusions when it comes to metaphysics because evolution didn't equip us that well for thinking about those kinds of things.

I still think Plantinga's argument is better. Plantinga's argument relies on the premise that naturalism leads to semantic epiphenomentalism. As long as that argument goes through, then Plantinga's EAAN is sound. For the time being, I'll stick with that. But if you want to talk about this new argument, you might ought to read the article by Thomas Crisp first. There's more to it than what I've explained, and it's always possible I missed some stuff or misunderstood some stuff. I'm more curious what you think about his argument the way he explained than how I explained it after a first reading. I'm also curious what you think of my objections after reading his paper and if you have any objections of your own. Or do you think it's a sound argument?

Monday, March 08, 2021

What is consciousness?

I always find it odd when I hear people say, "We have no idea what consciousness is." Unless you're a philosophical zombie, you know exactly what consciousness is because you experience it directly. It's the one thing you can't be mistaken about.

Maybe what people mean is that they don't know what causes consciousness or what the underlying physical mechanism is. There's got to be some kind of misunderstanding going on. I used to think maybe it was just in the difficulty of giving a precise definition of consciousness. There are a lot of words that are hard to define but that we nevertheless have no problem understanding. Maybe consciousness is one of them.

If you are a philosophical zombie, maybe I can help. Consciousness is first person subjective experience. Hmm. I guess if you're a philosophical zombie that probably isn't any more clear. I tried, though.

Friday, March 05, 2021

A PhD in Christian apologetics

I only found out a few years ago that there were PhD programs in Christian apologetics. I knew there were MA programs. I figured those MA programs existed either for personal edification (Christians just want to have a deeper grasp of Christian apologetics so they can be better apologists in their ordinary lives) or to prepare people to go into an apologetics ministry. Nothing about that struck me as weird.

But when I found out that there were PhD programs, it did strike me as being weird. There are two reasons.

First, when I think of a PhD in some field, I think of somebody who is an expert in some specific subject, like physics, history, philosophy, or whatever. But apologetics is an interdisciplinary field that borrows from physics, history, and philosophy. If, hypothetically, a PhD program were divided evenly between those three fields, then a PhD in apologetics would have about 1/3 of the exertise in any of those fields as somebody who had a PhD in one of those fields. So, if a PhD in apologetics were to try to do research in one of those fields so as to publish a paper and contribute to the scholarly conversation, they would be severely handicapped. It just strikes me as being weird that there would be a PhD program for such a generalized field when PhD programs are usually very focused on a narrow field of interest.

Second, in just about every other field of inquiry where you could get a PhD, the purpose is to contribute to answering questions in that field. In Physics, you want to know the laws of nature--how the universe operates. In Philosophy, you want to answer the big questions and maybe gain a deeper understanding of past thinkers. In History, you want to find out what actually happened in the past and why. But in Christian apologetics, you already have the answer to the big question--Christianity is true and competing worldviews are not. The only question is how to prove it. So, in what sense is it really a field of inquiry? Maybe you could think of it as an inquiry into the history of apologetics literature and the authors and arguments involved, but in that case, why not call it a PhD in Christian rhetoric? If it were Christian rhetoric, you wouldn't have to be committed to the conclusion that Christinaity is true, and anybody could get a PhD in it whether they were Christians or not. But to have a PhD in an academic field that only exists because of already having an answer to the major question in that field strikes me as being weird.

Why would anybody even want a PhD in Christian apologetics? Who is qualified to awared somebody with a PhD in Christian apologetics? What kind of scholarship does having a PhD in Christian apologetics allow you to produce that you couldn't produce better by having a PhD in some other field, like physics, biology, philosophy, or New Testament history?

The only person I know of who has a PhD in Christian apologetics is Sean McDowell, although I'm sure there are others. He did his dissertation on the question of whether the disciples of Jesus died as martyrs. That strikes me as being an historical question, and somebody who got a PhD either in New Testament or early Christian history or something along those lines would be far more equipped to do that kind of research. I wonder if Sean's PhD even involved him having to learn ancient languages like Greek and Latin in order to delve into the primary sources like a scholar in ancient history ordinarily would.

I'm curious if Sean has published any scholarship in any professional journal. I was just looking at his CV, and it shows a lot of books he either wrote or contributed to. With the possible exception of The Fate of the Apostles they look to all be popular level books. The Fate of the Apostles is published by Rutledge, which does publish some academic books, but has Sean's book been peer reviewed? Does any PhD in Christian apologetics contribute to professional journals? If so, what kind? I have a hard time imagining somebody with a PhD in Christian apologetics doing original research in physics, cosmology, biology, etc.

I don't mean this post to be a criticism of a PhD program in Christian apologetics. I don't even know what's entailed in the program. I am just expressing my own impression that it seems weird. It isn't like a PhD program in any other field that I know of.